Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Shroom Season!
What’s cooking? Mushroom Bolognese

The Kitchen Goddess hasn’t forgotten you – she’s cruising on the Danube, taking a crazy number of photos and tasting lots of nice white wine. She’ll be back next week with some fun recipes from her travels. In the meantime, here’s an earthy, flavorful pasta sauce that’s a snap to make and easy on the waistline.

It’s springtime, and a cook’s fancies naturally turn to...mushrooms!

I wish I had the nerve to go mushroom hunting on my own in the woods. I once signed up for a foraging outing in Central Park (NYC), but it got cancelled, for reasons I never quite understood. And I’ve read too many murder mysteries featuring poisonous varieties to be comfortable with picking any old variety I stumble across. If I were a Roman emperor, I could have my food tasters check out the differences. Instead, I go ‘shroom hunting at Whole Foods, where what they sell has already been tested.

As a category, mushrooms but simply macrofungi, or fungi that are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. They aren’t plants because they don’t develop through photosynthesis – they get all their energy and nutrients through their growth medium, via a process of decomposition. And, according to Wikipedia, there’s reliable evidence of mushroom consumption for nutritional and medicinal purposes as far back as several hundred years BC in China. Many of these varieties – e.g., chanterelles, porcini, morels, and truffles – are commercially cultivated, and Wikipedia lists more than 60 that are harvested in the wild.

Crimini mushrooms
Nutritionally, white and brown (crimini) button mushrooms are very similar. White button mushrooms are better sources of Vitamin C and iron, but criminis provide twice as much calcium, 50% more potassium, and three times as much of the mineral selenium. Criminis are lower in fat but higher in carbs. White buttons offer slightly more fiber and protein. Do you have a headache yet? I have even more information on buying and storing mushrooms on this previous post. And here endeth the lesson.

So the Kitchen Goddess was yearning for some meaty bolognese sauce, but her scales were telling her she should cut back on red meat. (There’s nothing like an upcoming cruise to remind a person about the need to slim down.) What better solution than to substitute mushrooms for the beef? You get all that great umami flavor and a meaty mouthfeel for lots fewer calories.

Shiitake mushrooms
For kitchen use, the button mushrooms (white and criminis) are by far the best buy. But the Kitchen Goddess is all about trying new things, so consider throwing in a few shiitakes, morels, chanterelles, or oyster mushrooms. Look for whole, intact caps – no major blemishes or slimy spots – and a plump, smooth, dry skin. They’ll keep in a paper bag in the fridge (or as Cook’s Illustrated recommends, in a partially opened zip-lock bag) for about a week.

Mushroom Bolognese

Adapted from The Mushroom Council and the Culinary Institute of America®

Yield: 6 Portions

Diced veggies for sauté. 
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds mushrooms, minced*
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
⅔ cup carrots, cut in ¼-inch dice
⅔ cup celery, cut in ¼-inch dice
½ cup dry white wine
¼ cup tomato paste
1 cup vegetable stock (mushroom stock, if you have it)
1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rind, 2-3 inches long
1 large garlic clove, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
2 fresh basil sprigs
1 bay leaf
⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons grated raw potato
1 cup cream (heavy or light)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 package pasta
½ cup pasta water, reserved
Garnishes: chopped fresh parsley, grated or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Kitchen Goddess note on finely chopping mushrooms: The KG hates chopping mushrooms, so she uses a food processor to mince button mushrooms. To avoid ugly hunks of mushroom in the mix – you want the sauce to have a nice, even consistency – first cut them into quarters before loading them into the processor. Use the pulse button 8-10 times, or enough to get a mince that’s not mushy – remember that the end product should resemble ground beef. For shiitakes, first separate the cap from the stem. You can add the stems (cut into modest-sized pieces) to the processor, but the caps don’t process as well, so you’ll want to slice the caps into ¼-inch dice. Tedious, I know, but you don’t need to have more than a few to add flavor.

If you’ll be serving the sauce immediately when it’s ready, start a large pot of boiling, salted water for the pasta. Cook pasta according to package instructions.

For the sauce, in a large, straight-sided skillet, heat the olive oil on a medium setting until it shimmers. Add the minced mushrooms and sauté, stirring often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the onions, carrots and celery, and continue to sauté on medium heat until the vegetables are soft, about 5 more minutes.

Add the wine, stirring to release any of the vegetable sauté that might have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook the mixture until the wine has nearly evaporated, about 5 minutes more.

Stir in the tomato paste and continue to sauté the mushroom mixture another 2 minutes. Add the stock and stir well, again making sure to release any of the mix that might have stuck to the pan. Add the next five ingredients (garlic, basil, bay leaf, nutmeg, and potato), stirring to mix well. Add the cream and stir well. Add ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper, then taste and adjust seasoning.

Bring the mix to a low simmer if it’s not already there, and let the sauce continue to simmer, partially covered, another 5-10 minutes until it thickens. Stir occasionally. Add some pasta water or more stock if the sauce seems too thick as it cooks. You can toss it with your pasta now, or store it, covered tightly, in the fridge for as long as a week.

When the pasta is cooked to an al dente doneness, drain it well and toss it with the sauce – in the pan or in a large serving bowl – until the sauce is well distributed among the pasta. Garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano and parsley and serve immediately.


  1. and...what time is dinner again?

  2. Well,... it'll be a couple of days, since the KG is in Hungary at the moment. But you come on by after that!

  3. Mushroom shopping this very day! Can't wait to try this recipe!
    Eileen in Atlanta